CIA Drone Strike Kills Wife of Pakistani Taliban Chief

For their part, residents from the area say the Taliban have destroyed their way of life, but they do not trust a military invasion. They question some of the targets hit by the Air Force campaign and point out that twice in the past, the army has failed to complete operations against Mehsud, opting instead for unwritten peace deals.

Thousands of people from South Waziristan, including those belonging to Mehsud's larger tribe, have fled the Taliban and the air operation in recent months. A group of about 40 of them visited Islamabad this week, asking the government for assistance.

"We are being arrested and tortured and beheaded," Noor Khan Mehsud, the leader of the Mehsud jirga, or tribal meeting, told ABC News during his visit. "We have no place to live. The government offers no protection to people like us."

Taliban Forces

His willingness to criticize the Taliban and the government during an on camera interview is rare, and he says it is quite dangerous to do so. Just a few weeks ago, he said, after two clerics had spoken against the Taliban, they were kidnapped. Their desecrated bodies were discovered by the side of the road.

While members of the jirga said they doubted whether the army could bring peace, Noor Khan Mehsud suggested that if the army could once and for all defeat the Taliban, his tribe would support it.

"If the army feels that they can bring about peace then we welcome them to come and do their job," he said. "We will only be too happy to have someone that would solve the problem."

Baitullah Mehsud has been blamed for many of the most notorious terrorist attacks in Pakistan in the last two years, most notably the Dec. 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Mehsud's second father-in-law, Akramud Din, who survived the attack on his house today, has become important to Mehsud in the last two to three years, analysts say. He was one of the chief mediators between Mehsud and the military when the two sides made agreements not to attack each other.

U.S. officials believe Mehsud is the strongest commander in the region and has more money than any other network, including al Qaeda.

His camps include not only fighters from the local tribal areas but militants from jihadi organizations based in Punjab, near the Indian border, as well.

Pakistani officials say that nexus has helped make Mehsud and his allies more dangerous than ever.

"We would be happy if we could kill him," says a U.S. official.

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